Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: Alastair Reynolds' "Poseidon's Wake"

tl;dr: I need to find a book that I like.

I've read a number of Alastair Reynolds' books in the past, and have enjoyed them all, although I noticed a flaw in a number of them that was particularly notable in this book.  So when I took Poseidon's Wake out of the library, I was quite excited.

The premise of the book is a good one: ship thought destroyed turns out to instead have been cast light years across space; a message from it is received.

The bulk of the book is then the response to this message, I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that a mission to the ship is dispatched.

The world building is pretty good, although there are a number of elements that cause it to creak, some of which are the fault of the author, and some of the publisher.  In many parts it's reminiscent of the world-building of Arthur C. Clarke, with a cast that would be today described as "minority", although since apparently all the Europeans have gone  missing, that term is really an anachronism. Labels are in Swahili and Chinese, it's mentioned several times.

Ultimately though, I found this book to be supremely dissatisfying, so much so that it was a struggle to finish.  I distinctly recall page 488, as that was the page at which I looked at the page number and said to myself, "How much longer?"  Over one hundred pages, was the unfortunate answer.

So the problems: let's start with the publisher. When I finished the book, I turned to the acknowledgements page, to discover that his was the third of three books. Huh?

Nowhere on the outside of the book is this fact mentioned, the inside flap mentions "in the conclusion of his epic saga", but one shouldn't have to hunt for this information! No doubt the publishers, noting that each version of a series sells fewer copies, decided to elide this information in order to sell a few more.

So, much of my initial reaction, that much of the world-building is absent, is likely because it was in the two prior installments.  No fault of the author.

What is the fault of the author is the bad elements of world building, the plot, and the characters.

There are a number of major world building problems, however. It won't take anything away to observe that a major plot point involves elephants in space.  As you might imagine, elephants aren't well suited to space, or space suits. Elephants, you see, are prolific creators of dung. Elephant dung is mentioned a number of times, in particular when the villian anounces that she must clear her bowels before getting into a space suit. I'd already begun wondering how this problem was handled, as the dung in spaceships issue had been mentioned as a problem earlier. The solution to how elephants evacuate themselves in spacesuits is never resolved, however. Given that elephants in space suits desperately trying to get inside becomes a issue at one point, one was left wondering if they were desperate to evacuate their bowels. This is an issue which was not resolved in the novel, however.

That's just one example of a deus ex machina approach to story-telling.  Reconfigure an entire spaceship to make it suitable for elephants?  Sure, no problem!  Couple days' work.  Fix a hole in the hull? Sorry, that's a year or more. It just makes no sense.

I enjoyed a few of the characters, including the captain of the ship dispatched to find this missing ship, and the artificial intelligence robot Swift, who plays a crucial role and is an enjoyable character. The protagonist, who appears to be an interesting, likable man at the beginning of the story, turns out to be an idiot. I can't recall a single instance where the opportunity to make a mistake arose and he failed to take that opportunity. He gets treason out of the way early on, so most of the remaining mistakes are more minor, until later, but they grate. I thought this was just ill-considered storytelling on the part of Mr. Reynolds, until he has the character recount his entire history of idiotic mistakes at the end of the book, and realize it must have been intentional. It may well have been, but it didn't make for an enjoyable read.

One additional major mistake appears just before what would have been, in a better-crafted book, the climax.  I recall an episode of an old TV series (it may have been The Dukes of Hazzard), where in order to prevent the progress of a villian, our heroes affixed a chain from the engine of his car to a tree.  What happened to that car as the villian attempted to speed away from the tree is roughly what happens to this book when the fool of a protagonist makes this crucial mistake.  The engine is ripped out, although the vehicle continues to move.

The thrust of the plot up until that point seems to be forgotten, the crucial danger that our protagonist was willing to commit suicide to prevent just disappears.  The entire story falls apart at that point. Mind you, at the very end of a trilogy!

Sadly, the book still has a ways to go.  Much of the rest involves the other characters congratulating our protagonist for his idiocy, which turns out to have been entirely pointless, as the danger never materializes, and his "moral victory" turns out to be almost entirely Pyhrric.

While I was initially annoyed that the publisher mislead me into reading the third book of a trilogy first, something I prefer not to do, I now realize that they did me a favor.

The intense dismay and annoyance that I experienced as what should have been an enjoyable read fell apart in my hands would have been far worse had I read the prior two books first.

The Importance of Negative Splits

"In the 2016 US men's Olympic marathon trials, only three of the 108 entrants ran the second half faster: the men who came in first, second, and third."
Fascinating article.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

[Cordain's] Paleo vs. Keto: What’s the Difference?

Interesting comparison by Phinney and Volek, but not one that I endorse, as they’re using Cordain's Paleo Diet, which I think is silly in some respects.

"There are a lot of similarities between Paleolithic (Paleo) and ketogenic diets (KD), particularly when compared to the now discredited ‘Standard American’ low fat, high carbohydrate diet....

"By definition, a ‘ketogenic diet’ allows your body to be in nutritional ketosis, whereas a Paleo diet seems to be purposefully designed to prevent it."

That version, maybe, but I agree with many of their crticisms, although some are bizarre:

"Nagging stomach and bowel issues go away (a common side effect of a high protein diet)..."


My own view is that a paleo diet should be ketogenic a lot of the time, and that's fine. And likely included whatever dairy they could get their hands on.

OK, so read and judge for yourself.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Seven Phases of Heart-Rate Training

So you've decided to start heart-rate training (HRT). Congratulations! Or you've been training and you've hit a rough patch, and need a little encouragement. Since I discovered it through the work of Dr. Phil Maffetone several years ago I have enjoyed great success with it, and I've seen others also enjoy the benefits.

But, HRT can be a bit challenging. The key to HRT is that most of your workouts are, well, easy. But the mental part of it can be tough, especially if you're a hard-charging Type A personality.  Extremely challenging!

So I thought I'd lay out the seven phases of HR training to help those who might think they're the only ones feeling that way, and help them get through the tough parts. (This is written from a beginner's perspective, a world-record athlete like Zach Bitter may jump directly to Horror, as he already has a base.)

1. Anticipation

You've read about the amazing success that some athlete (Mark Allen, etc.) has achieved on the Maffetone Method, and you're raring to go. You've probably done your first run or two, and you're thinking to yourself, this is easy! It's great! I can totally do this, I'll be setting a Personal Record (PR) in no time! Enjoy it while it lasts, because what comes quickly after is:

2. Hatred

"You've got to be kidding me!", you say as your HR monitor (HRM) goes off for the umpteenth time on that run or ride, telling you you're going too fast, and you need to slow down. You already thought you were going slow! And now you have to slow down even more? This is insane! My most clear memory of hating the Method and Dr. Maffetone personally was when I was going up a 21-degree grade, and I literally could not walk slowly enough to keep my HR under the target I was using. "The heck with Dr. Phil, I need to get home!" Take this as consolation: if you're doing it right, you will hate it at the beginning. So it's a good sign.

3. Resignation

This is, without a doubt, the toughest part. If you're going to bail from HR training, you're going to do it here. You'll have thoughts that this was a mistake, and you'll go re-read the material on the Method to make sure that you're doing it correctly. You are. It's not that hard, you really can't mess it up. You just need to resign yourself that it, well, sucks, at the beginning.

4. Acceptance

If you can accept that this is how it should be, and accept the notion that what you've discovered in 2 and 3 is that your engine is broken, and this is how you fix it, you'll make it through. You'll also begin to enjoy the easy pace, and begin to anticipate your HR readings. You'll start walking before the HRM goes off when you reach a hill. You'll love the fact that you can train every day, and that you won't suffer any problems from training. You'll miss your friends you used to train with, but you'll be seeing some gains, and you'll be in it for the long haul.

5. Horror

Yes, Horror. After you've come to accept and even enjoy the slow and easy pace, the moment will come when you're walking up a hill and your HRM alert will go off. You'll look down, as you're surprised that you've gone over your HR target, as you'd become pretty adept at anticipating it. But you're not over the target, you're below the bottom of the range. You have to speed up. Soon you'll notice that you have to speed up going down hills, as you've gone through the bottom of the range. You'll find you have to start running going up hills! Then you'll find that you're pushing the pace to stay in the range.  Yes, this is what you hoped for, but you'll realize that you've strapped a coach to your wrist, and he's starting to crack the whip. The easy times are beginning to end, your legs are beginning to get sore at the end of runs, and you're working! Egads!

6. Exhilaration

My moment of exhilaration came when I ran a race during my first year of HR training. I'd done some good times, PRs, and was quite happy. But I came down sick during the last race, and had to walk back to the finish line. It was pretty disappointing. I'd already paid for this race, and wasn't sure if I was over the bug. But I figured I'd run it anyway, so I ran at an easy pace, and just enjoyed the trails. But when I got to the finish line, I had PR'ed! Without even trying! This was fantastic!

7. Success

I had many successes, as during that first year I ran 9 races, was sick for two and didn't finish, but PR'ed in the other 7, breaking all my records. I was pretty stoked. This was the last race of the season for me, a half-marathon on a hilly course in my home town. The last two miles were uphill! At the beginning I ran with a friend who was a good bit faster than me, and as I was pacing myself, he slowed down so we could chat. When we got to the hills and I slowed down he dropped me and headed out of sight. Oh well. The halfway mark was at the bottom of a long downhill stretch, and I caught back up to my friend. We again ran together for a little bit, and this time I dropped him. Over the second half of the course, I gained 10 minutes, and finished with a PR, eclipsing my PR from a 1/2 four months earlier on a flat course. Not only had I beaten my fast friend by 10 minutes, but it was the easiest race I'd ever run. I was so well fat-adapted at this point that I had my end-of-race coffee, and then forgot to eat for four hours.

Needless to say, after that first year I've stuck with heart-rate training. My consistency has wavered, affecting my pace, but I know that I have a solid recipe for success for whenever I need it. It turned me from a reluctant runner for health reasons into a runner who runs because he loves to. It's been a real gift!

The most valuable lesson has been that when I waver from using HR as a guide, that's when I get myself into trouble. But that's another post.

Enjoy, and stick it out. It will be worth it!

P.S. Since the question was asked, I use a Garmin Forerunner 225, original model. It's fine as a running watch, the main feature I wanted was the wrist-based HRM. I'll never go back to the chest strap!

Monday, November 13, 2017

"Running in a minimalist and lightweight shoe is not the same as running barefoot: a biomechanical study"

Yep. Now it's official!

"Experimental conditions
"The protocol involved four experimental conditions: (1) barefoot; (2) a minimalist shoe (NIKE Free 3.0); (3) a lightweight racing flat (NIKE LunaRacer2) and (4) the shoe in which they were currently completing the most training mileage (herein called regular shoe)....

"Barefoot running was different to all shod conditions. Barefoot running changes the amount of work done at the knee and ankle joints and this may have therapeutic and performance implications for runners."

Full-text at the link.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Omega-6 Fats: The Alternative Hypothesis for Chronic Disease

People have been asking me to write a post on what I've been learning about diet for a long time, specifically focusing on linoleic acid and omega-6 fats. Well, here it is.  Credit goes to Raphi Sirt of Break Nutrition, who hit me up at just the right time.

Here's the published version over at BN ("Omega-6 Fats: the Alternative Hypothesis for Diseases of Civilization"), and here's the tweet announcing its publication:

Reception seems to have been quite good.  Mark Sisson mentioned it in his weekly 'net round-up, and then re-tweeted it separately:
Prof. Tim Noakes also retweeted the original tweet. Probably my favorite reaction was this one:
So I was pretty happy with the reception, and with the piece. Raphi was a good editor, and added a lot to it with some citations to studies backing up the argument that I'd never seen before. So if you're interested in the topic, go read that version.

Raphi also asked me to be on his podcast. Due to my verbosity, and prediliction to avoid brevity and drill down, it turned into two episodes. They're below, in order.

Episode 23 – Tucker Goodrich dishes on bad fats

Episode 24 – Tucker and Gabor on Seed Oils vs Refined Carbs – Part 2

I thought I would post the first draft here, mainly to get it off my hard drive, but also to have something to reference in posts on this blog. Links to citations, if you're curious, are in the final.

So here's the rough draft as delivered to Raphi:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: "This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol..." by Annie Grace

tl;dr: If you've ever thought about your drinking, you should probably read This Naked Mind. It's that fundamental—it's the owner's manual for alcohol.
"Can I still drink alcohol?" — Everyone's First Question About Fixing Diet
Alcohol consumption is one of the first questions that comes up after I start discussing the topic of a healthy diet with people. I always laugh, and say, "Well, alcohol's a poison, of course, so you don't want to overdo it..."

And, like most who try to eat well, I make alcohol a part of my "healthy" diet.

We also hear in the media that "moderate" consumption of alcohol is healthier than consuming none. I've never believed this, first because it's based on epidemiology, and second because I think it's a bit silly. Alcohol is a poison, and I don't think that consuming "moderate" amounts of a poison is ever really going to improve health, unless it's counter-acting some other poison. In which case the logical course is to stop consuming the first poison, not to add the second.

I was discussing the topic of booze with a friend one day recently, and she recommended this book. Despite this blog basically being a self-help blog, inspired by a self-help book (McDougall's Born to Run), I hate self-help books. Most of them I find tedious, repetitions of obvious things that we all know and know we should do.

Those that I've found valuable and compelling enough to actually alter my behavior, like BtR or Stephan Guyenet's Whole Health Source blog, contained a combination of some truths that I was aware of, and had acted upon; some validation or proof of another truth that I had considered, but had not acted upon; and then, having been pulled to that point, some other truths that I would soon be acting upon. It has been a powerful combination.

Grace's book is that kind of self-help book.

This is not a hellfire-and-brimstone anti-drinking book. I had those classes in high school, and they're a bit ridiculous. My reaction upon reading the definition of an alcoholic in that class was, "That's everybody!" Defining a disease so broadly as to include everyone is silly.

Grace does not make that mistake. She observes how widespread drinking and abuse of drinking is, as a book like this must, but she doesn't harp on it, and there are no stupid generalizations. As she explains:
"I have not given you definitive direction to stop drinking altogether. I have a hard time with rules. If there is a rule I must follow, my every instinct is to break it. A definitive statement to answer this question is difficult. I don’t want to write a rule and have the rebels, like myself, feel that they are bound. I would much rather present you with all the facts, allowing you to come to the decision that is best for you."
And, compellingly, she focuses on the subtle effects that alcohol has on the individual, the moderate drinker. She states her goal early:
"As you uncover the truth, your perception will begin to change, both consciously and unconsciously, and with this knowledge you will no longer desire alcohol. You will be free."
Then she begins to go through the facts:
"As John A. Bargh, a professor of psychology at Yale, put it, “Unconscious systems are continually furnishing suggestions about what to do next and the brain is acting on those, all before conscious awareness. Sometimes those goals are in line with our conscious intentions and purposes and sometimes they’re not. ”
I've often thought that our conscious mind is really nothing more than a passenger in our body, driving to some extent, but often just carried along, so this really hit a note.
"While scientists used to believe dopamine was linked to feeling good, they now believe that dopamine is linked to learning, and learning includes wanting, expecting, and craving."
So essentially what is happening is that by activating your dopamine system, alcohol is training you, like a rat in a cage, to subconsciously crave more alcohol.

Grace goes through the consequences of that, and notes that while we can use our willpower to moderate that craving, "willpower is a finite and exhaustible resource, much like a muscle, that can be fatigued." So when you wake up in the morning and find out that you had "a little too much to drink last night", you're responding to a powerful chemical stimulus with a muscle that probably fatigued. It's no surprise that all find themselves over-indulging occasionally. The surprise would be if none did.

She does go through the many negative consequences of alcohol. It's a known carcinogen, with no non-carcinogenic dose, other than zero. We all know it alters behavior, but not how pervasive those alterations can be, and there were a few moments where I found myself thinking, "Oh...", with a bit of chagrin. None of us likes to discover we're an unwitting puppet to a chemical.
"Now that you know the naked truth about alcohol and what it has been doing to you, your body, and your mind, you’ll be able to act."
One particularly amusing little anecdote struck me, as it describes me and, probably, everyone who will read this review on this blog:
"Everyone at the table was intelligent and seemed very in control of their drinking, yet there they were, drinking a known poison in massive quantities and speculating about the possibility of plastic leaching into their drinking water."
Yes, put like that, it seems downright stupid.

The book is also well-written, and enjoyable. She has a terrific voice, is clearly intelligent, and includes some great quotes:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
So yes, the book is a mind-bomb.

If you've ever reflected on drinking and it's role in your life, this is a terrific book to read. It's a great book if you've wondered about the health consequences of drinking, and more important, may enlighten you to some behavioral consequences of drinking of which you had not been aware.

Her intent, if you choose to let her by reading the whole thing, is to alter how you think about and look at alcohol forever. It certainly had that effect on me. Much like first reading BtR, that niggling doubt, that nascent thought, has been validated, brought to the fore, and now demands action.

You couldn't ask for more from a book.

Highly Recommended.